Man made deltas?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Vittorio Maselli and Fabio Trincardi, Institute of Marine Science, ISMAR-CNR, Bologna, Italy
During the last few millennia, southern European fluvio-deltaic systems have evolved in response to changes in the hydrological cycle, mostly driven by high-frequency climate oscillations and increasing anthropic pressure on natural landscapes. The review of geochronological and historical data documents that the bulk of the four largest northern Mediterranean and Black Sea deltas (Ebro, Rhone, Po and Danube) formed during two short and synchronous intervals during which anthropogenic land cover change was the main driver for enhanced sediment production. These two major growth phases occurred under contrasting climatic regimes and were both followed by generalized delta retreat, supporting the hypothesis of human-driven delta progradation. Delta retreat, in particular, was the consequence of reduced soil erosion for renewed afforestation after the fall of the Roman Empire, and of river dams construction that overkilled the still increasing sediment production in catchment basins since the Industrial Era. In this second case, in particular, the effect of a reduced sediment flux to the coasts is amplified by the sinking of modern deltas, due to land subsidence and sea level rise, that hampers delta outbuilding and increases the vulnerability of coastal zone to marine erosion and flooding.